From The Boathouse: Boat parades sooner than you think


Next week is Thanksgiving, which seems to come faster and faster every year. A lot of people are excited to go shopping the day after the feast, and some will bring out the holiday decorations for their homes. But let's not forget the decorations for your boat. If the weather is nice then venture on and go boating. I regularly see families out cruising the harbor with their families, friends and relatives.

This is the perfect opportunity to practice for the Christmas and Holiday Boat Parades happening in all three of Orange County's harbors.

Beginning with the southern most, the 38th annual Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights takes place two weekends. The theme "Lights, Camera, Action … A Hollywood Holiday" starts at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, 8, 14 and 15. For more information, visit

Moving up the coast, we have the 104th annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, the Grand Daddy of all parades. Newport's begins at 6:30 p.m. for five nights and cruises almost the total harbor's perimeter. The Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce hosts this event, themed this year "Surf, Sand and Santa!"

In addition to the boat parade, serving as the backdrop for the hundreds of lighted boats is the annual Ring of Lights contest, also hosted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. Beautifully decorated bayside homes and businesses surrounding the harbor go "all out" with their holiday spirit, featuring everything from roof-top animated scenes to dancing Christmas trees. With its own judged categories and prizes, the Ring of Lights has become as celebrated as the boat parade itself.

This year's dates are Dec. 19 to 23, with a special fireworks display about 9 p.m. on the final night. For more information, visit

Looking to the most northern harbor in Orange County, boaters can join in the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Cruise Committee's Boat Parade. "Golden Memories, 50 Years of Music" is the theme for this parade, which starts at 5:15 p.m. Dec. 8 and 9.

In a separate event, he funds raised from the Cruise of Lights, which includes narrated boat tours from Dec. 15 to 23, support highly regarded educational youth programs of Orange County. Additionally, the Huntington Harbour Committee gives 10% of its fundraising proceeds from a holiday boutique and fashion show, among other events, directly back to school music programs based on need.

Tip of the week focuses on decorating your vessel safely. Next week, I will have more tips on skippering in the parade and parade etiquette for boaters.

The main concerns and planning objectives when decorating a vessel are safety and that the skipper can still see without bright lights or decorations impeding the view.

On parade nights, hundreds of boats will be on the water performing impromptu close-quarter maneuvering, and most boaters are not accustom to nighttime cruising. Also, the parade routes will lead some boaters to unfamiliar areas of the harbor and there will be effects from the tidal currents.

The skipper's diminished view combined with the distraction of on-board guests causes a high percentage of near misses during the parade.

Prudent seamanship dictates that should the skipper's view be restricted, someone needs to be posted as a lookout in any blind area. When I am in command of a yacht, I have crew acting as my eyes and ears to constantly communicate either verbally, or with hand signals or two-way handheld radios.

Additionally, you must remember to keep the safety of your guests a priority when decorating the boat. Every year, I notice some very hazardously decorated boats. I, personally, have been zapped by touching metal railings that have grounded a wet extension cord.

Lastly, take the time to give a safety briefing to everyone onboard, and in the event of a situation, who will do what. I will have more, and do not forget that it is lobster season with traps directly out the harbors' entrances if you are traveling to one of the neighboring harbors.

And don't forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead's "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network at noon Saturdays and replayed at 10 a.m. Sundays.

Safe voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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